Thursday of Week 34 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 21:20-28

Jesus continues his warnings of what is to come. It is a blending of what is going to happen to Jerusalem and of the end of all things. The images are mainly biblical and apocalyptic, from Old Testament prophecies and not to be taken as an accurate description of what is actually going to happen some 40 years later. The sign that the end was near would be Jerusalem surrounded by armies accompanied by the “abomination that causes desolation” (cf. Matt 24:15). Nevertheless, it is true that Jerusalem was encircled by the armies of Rome. The safest place to be was in the surrounding hills, not in the city, which was reduced to rubble.

Jesus is emphasising not so much the actual events but rather their cause – the faithlessness and corruption of so many for which destruction was the inescapable outcome. So he calls them the “days of retribution” or the “time of punishment”, not indicating God’s revenge, but the natural result of evil and corruption, warnings of which the Scripture, especially the prophets, are full. See, for example, Isaiah 63:4; Jeremiah 5:29 and Hoseah 9:7. And especially, Daniel 9:27:

For one week he [King Antiochus] will make a firm compact with the many [faithless Jews]. Half the week [three and a half years] he shall abolish sacrifice and oblation. On the temple wing shall be the horrible abomination until the ruin that is decreed is poured out upon the horror.

The temple was desecrated by Antiochus from 167 to 165 BC. The “horrible abomination” perhaps refers to an inscription placed on the portal of the temple dedicating it to the Olympian Zeus. All of this, of course, was to be repeated. And, in many ways, has been repeated again and again. One thinks of the nude statue set up as a deity in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris during the French Revolution.

What follows from verse 23 is more relevant to the destruction of Jerusalem. It will be a particularly difficult time for women who are pregnant or nursing. It will be a time of great distress. Many will be cut down and others will be led away into captivity to pagan territories (the Romans liked to parade their prisoners in a victory march in Rome). The holy city itself, its Temple in ruins, will be trampled on by the Gentiles – a fate it still experiences.

This will happen “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”. For, as Paul indicates in his letter to the Romans (11:25-29), it is the Gentiles who have taken the place of the Jews as the bearers of the Good News and the builders of the Kingdom. But Paul believed that the age of the Gentiles would only end with the return of Israel and the reconciliation of all in Christ Jesus as Lord. It is an indefinite period, and it is still in process. Our God is an all-inclusive God – and a patient God.

Finally, Jesus speaks of various cataclysmic and apocalyptic signs to signal the end of time. They are typical biblical phenomena and not meant to be taken as exact foretelling of events. They conclude with Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man riding on a cloud coming with great power and glory. It is not intended to fill people with fear and trembling, except perhaps those who have lived wicked lives.

But for the disciples, the loyal followers of Jesus, it is a time to “stand up straight and raise your heads, for your redeeming is near at hand”. As we saw in yesterday’s Gospel, sufferings and tribulations are part and parcel of living the Christian life to the full. Our message and our vision is a ‘sign of contradiction’, a beacon of light to many and to others a threat to be radically uprooted.

But for those who have tried to live by the vision and values of the Gospel, for those who have tried to seek and find Jesus in all the people and events of their lives, who have spent hours with him in intimate dialogue, it is the time of their final liberation, a time when there will be no more sorrows, no more tears, no more hardships, no more disappointments. Rather, they will be entering an unbroken time of love and intimacy, of freedom and peace, of joy and consolation.

So, as we approach the end of another liturgical year, we do so on an upbeat note.

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